(c.1040 - c.970 BCE)
The biblical King David of Israel was known for
his diverse skills as both a warrior and a writer of psalms. In his
40 years as ruler, between approximately 1010 and 970 B.C.E.,
he united the people of Israel, led them to victory in battle,
conquered land and paved the way for his son, Solomon,
to build the Holy Temple.
Almost all knowledge of him is derived from the books of the Prophets and Writings: Samuel
I and II, Kings
I and Chronicles I.
David was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse
from the kingly tribe of Judah.
He was also a direct descendent of Ruth the Moabite. David began his
life as a shepherd in Bethlehem.
One day, the prophet Samuel
called him out of the field and anointed him without the knowledge of
the current king, Saul.
David simply returned to his sheep. His first interaction with Saul
came when the king was looking for someone to play music for him, and
the kings attendant summoned the skilled David to play for him.
Saul was pleased with David and kept him in his service as a
The first time David publicly displayed his
courage was when, as an inexperienced boy armed with only a stick and
a few stones, he confronted the nine-foot, bronze armored Philistine
giant, Goliath of Gath. After skilled warriors had cowered in fear
for 40 days, David made a slingshot, invoked Gods name, and killed
the giant. After this, Saul took David on as commander of his troops
and David formed a close friendship with Sauls son, Jonathan.
David was successful in battle against the
Philistines and this aroused the jealousy of Saul, who tried to kill
David by throwing a spear at him. David stayed with Saul, however,
and Saul offered him his own daughter, Merav, as a wife. He later
reneged on his promise, but offered David his second daughter, Michal,
in exchange for the foreskins of 100 Philistines, a price that David
Sauls jealousy of David grew and he asked his
son Jonathan to kill David. Jonathan was a friend of Davids,
however, and hid David instead. He then went to his father and
convinced Saul to promise not to kill David. Saul promised, and David
returned to his service. This promise did not last and, after Saul
attempted to kill David a second time, Michal helped David run away
to the prophet Samuel in Ramah. David returned briefly to make a pact
of peace with Jonathan and to verify that Saul was still planning to
kill him. He then continued his flight from Saul, finding refuge with
the king of Moab. On the way, the priest Ahimelech of Nob gave David
a weapon. When Saul heard this, he sent Doeg the Edomite to kill 85
of the citys priests.
In the course of his flight, David gained the
support of 600 men, and he and his band traveled from city to city.
At one point, in Ein Gedi, David
crept up on Saul while he was in a cave, but instead of killing him,
cut a piece from his cloak and confronted Saul. Saul broke down and
admitted that David would one day be king and asked David to swear
that he would not destroy Sauls descendants or wipe out Sauls
name. David swore to this, but it did not stop Saul from continuing
to pursue him. Finally, David and his supporters joined the service
of Achish, the Philistine king of Gath who entrusted David with
control of the city of Ziklag. Under Achishs employ, David raided
the cities of nomads who harassed the Jews and gave the spoils as
gifts to the leaders of Judah to win their support for him against
Eventually, while David was out battling a tribe
called the Amalekites, Saul and Jonathan were killed on Mt. Gilboa in
a fight with the Philistines. David mourned, and then began a new
stage in his life, as king of Judah. He moved to Hebron, along with
his wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel, and his
followers. The people of Judea were grateful to David for saving them
from desert raiders while he was in Ziklag, and they appointed David
Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner crowned Ish-Boshet son
of Saul king over the tribes of Israel. The kingdoms of Judah and
Israel fought, with Davids dynasty growing stronger as Sauls
grew weaker. Finally, after Abner had a fight with Ish-Boshet, Abner
approached David and made a pact with him, which allowed David to
unite the two kingdoms and rule over all of Israel. As Abner was
leaving David, however, Davids advisor and army commander, Joab,
killed Abner without Davids knowledge. Soon, Ish-Boshet was also
killed and the tribes of Israel anointed David as their king. David
was 30 years old at the time, and had ruled over Judah for seven
years and six months. Over the years, he had taken more wives and had
many children. He had also made pacts with kings of various
Davids first action as king was to capture what
is now the City of David in Jerusalem, fortify it and build himself a
palace. When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king
and was threatening their hegemony over all of Palestine, they
attacked, spread out over the Valley of Raphaim and captured
Bethlehem. David retaliated and, in three battles, forced the
Philistines out of Israel.
Once David had established the safety of his
kingdom, he brought the Holy Ark, which had been passed from city to
city, to Jerusalem. He then wanted to build a temple to God and
consulted Natan the prophet. Natan replied to David that God would
always be with David, but it would be up to Davids son to build
the Temple because David had been a warrior and shed blood.
David then began fighting wars against Israels
neighbors on the east bank of the Jordan. He defeated the Moabites,
the Edomites, the Ammonites and the Arameans. These wars began as
defensive wars, but ended with the establishment of a Davidic empire
that extended over both sides of the Jordan River, as far as the
Mediterranean Sea. David enforced justice in his empire and
established civil and military administrations in Jerusalem, modeled
after those of the Canaanites and Egyptians. He divided the country
into twelve districts, each with its own civil, military and
religious institutions. He also established Jerusalem as the secular
and religious center of the country. Each district paid taxes to
Jerusalem and the people began to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem each
year on the holidays of Passover, Shavout and Sukkot.
Despite this flawless reign on a national level,
David had many problems in his personal life. One day while the men
were at war, David spied a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, from his
rooftop. He discovered that she was married to Uriah the Hittite, but
this did not stop him from sending for her and getting her pregnant.
He then recalled Uriah from battle and pretended that Uriah was the
father of Bathshebas baby. Uriah refused to go home to his wife,
so David sent Uriah to the front lines of battle, where he was
killed. David then married Bathsheba. When confronted by Natan the
prophet, David admitted his sin. In punishment, Bathshebas child
died and David was cursed with the promise of a rebellion from within
his own house. Bathsheba and David soon conceived a second son, Solomon.
Davids personal strife continued when his son
Amnon raped Tamar, Amnons half-sister. Absalom, who was Davids
son and Tamars brother, then killed Amnon. Absalom fled, but David
could not stop thinking about him. Finally, Joab convinced David to
allow Absalom to return. Absalom was a handsome man and became
popular with the people of Israel. Then, 40 years after Samuel had
anointed David king, Absalom, along with 200 men, journeyed to Hebron with the intention of rebelling against his father and taking over
his kingdom. He had the support of the men of Hebron who were
insulted by the removal of the kingdom from Hebron to Jerusalem, the
elders whose status was undermined by parts of Davids policy and
the Benjamites who wanted to avenge Sauls family.
David feared that Absalom would return and conquer
Jerusalem, so he and all his followers fled the city, leaving only 10
concubines to guard the palace. David told the priests Zadok and
Abiathar to remain in the city along with his friend and now spy
Hushai the Archite. Meanwhile, Absalom reached Jerusalem, took over
the city and slept with Davids concubines. Hushai befriended
Absalom, advised him, and told the priests to send messengers
informing David of Absaloms plans. David gathered his troops and
then killed 20,000 of Absaloms Israelite soldiers, including
Absalom himself. David returned to power. A second revolt broke out
at the hands of Sheba son of Bichri, but with the help of Joab, David
succeeded in crushing this rebellion as well, and in killing Sheba.
Eventually David grew old and had to stop
fighting. He constantly felt cold and could not get warm. At this
point, Adonijah, Davids oldest son, declared himself king. David,
however, had promised Bathsheba that her son Solomon would be king, and publicly anointed Solomon.
Fearful of retribution Adonijah ran to the altar in Jerusalem, but Solomon pardoned him and sent him home.
David delivered a last set of instructions to his
son, telling him to follow the words of God and to repay in kind
specific people that had either wronged David or helped him. David
then died after 40 years as king, 33 of those in Jerusalem. He was
buried in the City of David.
David was a poet and the rabbis believe that David
wrote the Book of Psalms, or at
least edited it. Throughout his life, David prepared for the
construction of the Holy Temple by setting aside the necessary
physical materials, commanding the Levites and others in their duties
for the Temple, and giving the plan for the Temple to Solomon.
It is then fitting that according to tradition, the Messiah,
who will build the third temple, will be from the Davidic dynasty.
Today, Jews pray daily for the coming of the "Messiah, son of
Sources: Cohen, Barbara. David:
A Biography. Clarion Books, New York: 1995.
Scriptures: Samuel I and II, Kings
I, Chronicles I.
The Jewish Publication Societys translation, New York: 1985.